Let's Talk Slurs: On the Term "Fag"

By Jessica Mahmoud on April 25, 2017
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In case you missed my last post, I am doing a segment on slurs. In other words, in the coming weeks, I’m going to write separate pieces on popular slurs in the LGBTQ+ Community.

Regarding slurs themselves, the book We Did What?! Offensive and Inappropriate Behavior in American History explains:

“Ultimately the meaning of a slur and its impact depend on the nature of a relationship between the speaker and the listener and their intentions. Members within a particular ethnic, racial, or gender group may use slurs among themselves, not intending to hurt each other or even as terms of endearment … The uses of slurs might sound offensive to listeners who do not understand the relationship between the speaker and listener or they do not understand that they mean no harm” (Jay).

First, I’ll define the term. Fag, or faggot, refers to someone perceived as non-heteronormative. Sometimes it’s adopted affirmatively by gay men to refer to themselves.

History

I think there is a long history behind this slur, so below are some ways it’s been used and came about:

•Fag, in its English Public School sense, denotes service by junior boys for seniors, often with the implication of sexual favors (Hughes).

•Faggot is typically a highly disparaging epithet in use by homophobic people (often men) who hate and brutalize gay men. Expressions such as “Kill the faggot” and “We’re going to teach this faggot a lesson” are commonly used prior to and during vicious assaults on gay individuals (Herbst 87).

•”Faggots Jump Here” was written by high school boys when they threw a gay man off a bridge in 1984 (Herbst 87).

•If you Google faggot, you’ll probably come across pictures of piles of twigs. Historically, when gay men were burned alive, they were referred to as faggots (Herbst 87).

•In the 20th Century, the word was used as slang for “men considered to be women-like or flashy” (GLSEN).

•”It is unclear when it specifically became an insult that usage no doubt comes from the belief among some straight men that the greatest possible humiliation is to be identified as gay” (GLSEN).

The Fag Discourse

In the case study Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School, sociologist Jane Ward uses the fag discourse (basically, this is the use of the word of behaviors perceived as someone who could be called a fag) to see the effects the word fag has on boys. Here are some of the findings:

•The fag discourse is racialized. Some behaviors can be enacted by African-American boys without putting them at risk of receiving the label. The racialized meanings of the fag discourse suggest that something more than simple homophobia is involved in these sorts of interactions.

•The fag label can be used jokingly, to describe boys who either act femininely and/or pretend to sexually desire other boys.

•”The fag identity is … an identity that no boy wants, but one that a boy can escape, usually by engaging in some sort of discursive contest to turn another boy into a fag.”

•The fag identity is “a position outside of masculinity that actually constitutes masculinity.”

•When a boy calls another boy a fag, it means he is not a man, not necessarily that he is a homosexual.

•This term affects boy gay and straight men.

Women-Identified Fags

The derogatory use of the word faggot being used on women dates back before the 17th Century, meaning “a bad-tempered, shrewish, or dissipated, slatternly woman” (Herbst 88). Since the 21st Century, faggot has also been used as a pejorative for women, especially “butch” lesbians. While many dictionaries say there’s a weak connection, “the sense of a gay man most likely derives from this slur on women and children, since gay men are often ridiculed for supposedly effeminate and immature behavior” (Herbst 88).
Fag-Hags
Another overlapping word that goes along with fag is fag hag, or a woman who associates mostly or exclusively with gay or bisexual men. It is typically used as a word to describe heterosexual women, which can be looked on as a positive between the gay and straight communities. The word dates back to the 1920s, with Robert Rodi’s book Fag Hag describing them as “women who love men who love men” (Herbst 88). Around mid-twentieth century, the word also meant a woman who smoked, since the word was also meant to mean cigarette.
God Hates Fags
While my last post talked about Dykes on Bikes, I think there is less reclamation of this slur. Rather, you’ll see it publicly as a way to express hate towards the LGBTQ+ Community. An example of this would be the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas holding up signs such as “God Hates Fags.”
They have a website that openly explains their hatred and explains what they do. They explain their goals as:
1. To preach the Word of God to this crooked and perverse generation
2. To glorify God by declaring His whole counsel to everyone
3. Their preaching will save someone
You can find more on their website here.
Reclamation
As a queer person, I’ve seen less reclamation of the word fag as an identity. In researching, however, I’ve seen it more often online. For example, while tabloids and activists have recently attacked her for the use of it, Lily Allen got support for her song “Fag Hag” by LGBTQ activists  (2017).
Additionally, Tyler the Creator has reclaimed it in his music, using the word faggot and its variants a total of 213 times on his 2011 album, Goblin (Nichols)
Here’s another piece in support of reclaiming the word fag (Scudera).
The Gay & Lesbian Times make a point in mentioning that “By embracing a word that was used to attack or degrade, the gay community has demagnetized the strength of the word, making it a common everyday term … [which] lessens the effect of the word when used against them.”
However, they also mention an opposing view: “When people are so used to hearing the words ‘fag’ and ‘faggot,’ then it becomes almost acceptable for the general population to take in” (Van). Here’s another piece that believes it shouldn’t be reclaimed (Tharrett).

A Note on the Word Fag

I do recognize this piece may be a little jarring if the information is new to you. But that’s what I’m here for! I think it’s important to talk about things folks don’t want to say. So far, I’ve talked about the use of dyke and fag, and as I mentioned, I think dyke has been reclaimed more often. Whether that’s because of how “fragile” masculinity is or just a historical thing, I think it’s an individual thing, but also a conversation to be had.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the next piece on another LGBTQ+ slur! In the meantime, feel free to check out the sources and resources below.

Sources

Celebrate Kindness: No Name-Calling Week. GLSEN. https://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/HS%20Lesson-What%27s%20in%20a%20Name_.pdf

Duffy, N. Tabloids attack Lily Allen for quoting the ‘fag’ Pink News. http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/01/26/tabloids-attack-lily-allen-for-quoting-the-word-fags/

FAQ. God Hates Fags. http://www.godhatesfags.com/faq.html#Goal

Herbst, P. (2001). Wimmin, Wimps & Wallflowers : An Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Gender and Sexual Orientation Bias in the United States. Yarmouth, Me: Intercultural Press.Ward, J. (2009). Dude You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. Social Forces, 88(1), 484-486.

Hughes, G. (2006). An encyclopedia of swearing : The social history of oaths, profanity, foul language, and ethnic slurs in the English-speaking world. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe.

Nichols, J. Tyler The Creator, Rapper, Discusses Why “Faggot” Isn’t Offensive on ‘The Arsenio Hall Show’ The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/11/tyler-the-creator-faggot_n_4254885.html

Jay, T. (2017). We did what?! : Offensive and inappropriate behavior in American history. Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood.

Scudera, D. Reclaiming the Gay F-Word. The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/domenick-scudera/reclaiming-the-gay-fword_b_1092157.html

Tharrett, M. No, Everyone, It’s Not Okay To ‘Reclaim’ The Word ‘Faggot’ Queerty. https://www.queerty.com/no-everyone-its-not-okay-to-reclaim-the-word-faggot-20140520

Van de Mark, B. (2007, October 11). Faggot: linguistic friend or foe?. Gay & Lesbian Times. p. 34.

Ward, J. (2009). Dude You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. Social Forces, 88(1), 484-486

(2017). LILY ALLEN’S USE OF ‘FAGS’ SLUR DEFENDED BY GAY RIGHTS CAMPAIGNER. World Entertainment News Network

Check out these too:

Azzopardi, C. Lily Allen Q&A On Her ‘Fag Hag’ Epiphany, UK Journalists & Writing Women off As ‘Bitches.’ PrideSource. http://www.pridesource.com/article.html?article=66148

Cohen, B. On the Scene: Protesting with the Westboro Baptist Church. The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/benyamin-cohen/on-the-scene-protesting-w_b_573863.html

Sunderland, M. Facebook Blocked Me Because I Said ‘Faggot,’ Even Though I’m Gay. Vice. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/facebook-wont-let-faggots-say-faggot

Walters, S. D. (1996). From Here to Queer: Radical Feminism, Postmodernism, and the Lesbian Menace (Or, Why Can’t a Woman Be More like a Fag?). Signs, (4). 830.

Miles Chronicles. Calling the Westboro Baptist Church as (666-666-6666). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPr4edzZIPw

Originally published on Color it Queer

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Hey I'm Jess, a student at Montclair State University studying Journalism with a minor in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Studies. My pronouns are she, her, hers, and herself. I enjoy smashing the patriarchy, questioning the gender binary, and making new friends. With hopes to be an activist for the LGBTQ Community, I educate people on my Wordpress blog, https://coloritqueer.com/

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